Eunoia by Christian Bok is unlike any book you are likely to read. It is the culmination of the author’s passion, or should I say, obsession. It’s a book eight years in the making, where the subject is language itself. There is no clear narrative, no protagonist. This is not a novel, but a melding of art, science and poetry to create a book that opens your eyes to the possibility of language. It is also a very humbling experience. Every page has dozens of words that I had never seen written down, let alone said aloud (and I would definitely recommend reading these chapters aloud- they sound like fantastic tongue twisters when you do.)
Eunoia (the shortest word in the English language that contains every vowel and means ‘beautiful thinking’) is a book that restricts itself with a series of rules in order to create a book where highly constrained writing produces fascinating and unique results. Each chapter uses only one vowel. So Chapter one, ‘A’ uses only the vowel A, and chapter two only uses the vowel E and so on. When confronted with this style for the first time, your brain tries to make sense of this but it looks wrong; like a series of typos and grammatical errors that your brain doesn’t want to compute. but when it does, it quickly becomes clear that this is a labour of love, patience and determination and it’s own distinct style shines through, totally unlike that of any other book I have read.
The product of Bok’s exhausting writing style is a series of univocalic lipograms, which are inspired by a French coterie called Oulipo, a group renowned for its literary experimentation in the 1960’s. Bok wrote this about one of their works:
“the text makes a Sisyphean spectacle of its labour, wilfully crippling its language in order to show that, even under duress, language can still express an uncanny, if not sublime, thought.”
Bok’s own lipograms do just that, creating prose which flows, rhymes, and fascinates unexpectedly.
Chapter One; ‘A’-
Awkward grammar appals a craftsman. A Dada bard as daft as Tzara damns stagnant art and scrawls an alpha (a slapdash arc and a backward zag) that mars all stanzas and jams all ballads (what a scandal). A madcap vandal crafts a small black ankh – a hand- stamp that can stamp a wax pad and at last plant a mark that sparks an ars magna (an abstract art that charts a phrasal anagram). A pagan skald chants a dark
saga (a Mahabharata), as a papal cabal blackballs all annals and tracts, all dramas and psalms: Kant and Kafka, Marx and Marat. A law as harsh as a fatwa bans
all paragraphs that lack an A as a standard hallmark.
If you have a love of words, then you’ll find this book riveting. It’s a testament to the possibility of words, it opens the eyes to words we rarely (or never) use and is a truly impressive exercise in word manipulation. It’s the anti page-turner. You’ll find yourself staring at these pages, re-reading them and returning to them. Don’t expect a ‘story’ here; but expect to be blown away nonetheless.
(And if you’re a scrabble fan, this is a great weapon to have in your arsenal)
Check out the author reading from Eunoia and other works here. He’s a character: